BANDHANI TIE-DYE AND THE ANCIENT ROOTS OF THE AMERICAN BANDANA
I’m continually fascinated by handmade textile’s ability to link cultures and tell a story about our human history. In studying textile history, I often find surprising links and commonalities that are seemingly worlds apart. Such is the case with the iconic American bandana and the ancient Indian craft of bandhani tie-dye.
Bandhani is a method of tie-dying textiles long practiced in India. The earliest historical examples of bandhani are dated around 4000 B.C. These pieces are attributed to the Indus Valley Civilization, a bronze age people who lived in modern day areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Indian state of Gujarat, where the technique is popular to this day.
Bandhani remains an important component of material culture and artisan practice in northwestern India. This is especially the case in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan where variations can be spotted daily; from casual street styles to formal uniforms to prestigious museum collections.
A look at the entomology of the English word bandana clearly illustrates a major link to ancient language of Sanskrit. The Sanskrit word bandh was a verb meaning to tie or to bind. This became the Hindi noun bandhani, referring to the fabric and method. In early days the English word bandana referred specifically to a dotted bandhani kerchief from India. Eventually it came into the current definition of a cotton kerchief.
Bandhani follows some major world history in the 18th and 19th century, especially concerning colonialism. As the British colonized India and disrupted local economies, many traditional artisans found a demand far from their local community. Bandhani technique was applied to goods intended for these markets, such as men’s kerchiefs.
Bandhani kerchiefs found their way along trade routes to North America, also colonized by the British. Even after American independence the bandhani kerchiefs remained a popular import and moved westward along with European settlement into the American West.
In the 18th and 19th centuries rapid industrialization led to the Industrial Revolution in both Britain and the USA. By the mid-1800’s the textile industry was a driving force in US manufacturing, especially dependent on US grown cotton and slave labor. One such development, rotary printed textiles, was prolific in creating cotton goods for the masses- including bandanas. To this day, rotary printing remains the fastest way to apply color and design to fabric yardage.
The “circle dot” motif created from the hand tied Indian technique translated into a more uniform circle as the process mechanized for US manufacture. The link to the original bandhani motif and composition can be clearly seen when comparing the examples below.
This “circle-dot” pattern remains popular on bandanas even today and can be found one of LCT’s best sellers.
Given my love for textile histories and global connections, you can imagine how thrilled I was to find such beautiful examples of bandhani in India. The designs and silk fabrics resembling early exports from the 18th century were especially compelling. I bought these from a shopkeeper in Gujarat who informed me his primary focus is to “promote products that are hand processed following traditional methods.” In this way, these traditions can provide employment opportunities and sustainable practices. Keep scrolling for a look at the collection and be sure to visit our webshop if you’re in love!